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Best of John G. Brokopp

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Harrah's 'Treasure Hunt' Big Hit with Players

19 December 2001

Casinos are always coming up with new promotions in an effort to lure customers through their doors. The competition tends to get pretty intense in the major markets. In the Chicago-area, for example, including Northwest Indiana, there are eight properties from which people with an itch to gamble can choose.

A majority of casino promotions are limited in scope and imagination to the particular property that sponsors them. A noteworthy exception is Harrah's Entertainment, Inc., which is in the enviable position of being the world's largest player in the casino-entertainment industry, operating 25 casinos in the United States and possessing a combined database of more than 24 million players.

With the ability to implement promotions on a national scale, Harrah's never lets America's gaming public down. Its innovative "Millionaire Maker" slot tournament has evolved into an annual event that keeps getting bigger and better every year. Millionaire Maker is an opportunity for everyone who has ever fancied "hitting it big" on a slot machine to make that dream come true.

The latest creative gem mined by Harrah's talented marketing team was the $1,000,000 Treasure Hunt. Customers at Harrah's properties nationwide spent the better part of this year earning entries based upon frequency of play to get the chance to meet in Las Vegas on November 10, head out to a remote desert location, and search for a treasure chest with a cool $1 million locked inside.

There were two representatives from the Chicago-area: James Schlaffer of Gurnee, Illinois, who was the winner from Harrah's Joliet, and Clara Swain of Munster, Indiana, who was the winner from Harrah's East Chicago. They were joined by 17 other contestants from Harrah's properties all around the country ranging in age from 36 to 88.

This columnist was among the journalists invited by Harrah's to fly out to Las Vegas to witness first hand who would be the lucky winner. I couldn't resist. How often does one get the opportunity to keep company with a group of people, any one of whom had an 18 to 1 chance to "dig" up a $1-million treasure chest?

Now, when you're talking about trekking through the Nevada desert, visions that immediately come to mind are stumbling across remnants of the nuclear testing that went on there during the height of the Cold War. No such danger with Harrah's $1,000,000 Treasure Hunt. The loot, we were to discover, was hidden in a scenic landscape on the edges of the Valley of Fire State Park.

No fear of throat-parching, skin burning travels under the hot Nevada sun, either. The contestants were taken to the Treasure Hunt site from their headquarters at the Rio Suites Hotel & Casino in style: A caravan of air-conditioned SUV's and even a couple of Hummers. Prior to embarking on the hunt, we had breakfast in a hospitality tent set up in the middle of nowhere.

Harrah's hid 19 treasure chests in the mountains and surrounding valley, inhabited by desert reptiles and even Bighorn Sheep. There was even evidence of the Native Americans who lived in the Bitter Springs Byway, sandstone quarries, and Buffington Pockets hundreds of years ago: Hollowed-out caves and petroglyphs (rock and cave drawings).

When it comes to casino promotions, nobody can pull them off on a grander scale than Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. Our trip along Interstate 15 North took us past the Nellis Air Force Base and Great Basin National Park exits and into the Moapa Valley, the home of the scenic Valley of Fire.

Shortly before arriving at our destination we stopped off at the Moapa Tribal Enterprises store. Some of the semi-finalists purchased little "dream catchers" to hang around their necks. In the back of the store was a small slot and video poker room.

Once we arrived at the base camp, the 19 semi-finalists were invited one at a time to draw a numbered coin from a chest. The numbers would determine the order in which the contestants would be asked to come forward and select a treasure map. Treasure hunters were then assigned guides who drove them out into the desert in an SUV to follow the directions that would lead them to their treasure.

A prophetic comment was made after Shirley Miller, representing the Harrah's Casino & Hotel in Laughlin, Nevada, drew coin number 13. "That was Bill Harrah's (the founder of Harrah's Entertainment, Inc.) lucky number," an event coordinator said.

When all of the contestants returned to base camp after successful hunts for their treasure, they were asked to open up their chests simultaneously. Amid an explosion of confetti, Shirley Miller's chest was the one that contained the $1-million certificate. She shouted for joy, looked skyward, and reached for the heavens in an expression of gratitude for her good fortune.

Nobody went home empty-handed. Irene Morant from Vicksburg, Mississippi, was overjoyed with her $10,000 prize. There were also some $5,000 chests. The least amount a contestant could uncover was $2,000. The imaginative promotion was pulled off without a hitch, much to the delight of the Harrah's corporate executives.

"The whole promotion started off as a joke when someone at a marketing strategy session suggested we bury treasure in the desert," said Rich Mirman, senior vice-president of marketing.

Most of the planning, including the site selection, was the responsibility of Ben Parks, a 32-year-old native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, who is the corporate promotions manager for Harrah's.

"This was by far the biggest logistical project I had ever taken on," Parks said. "Early this year we had to go to the Nevada Bureau of Land Management to seek permission to use the site I had selected for our treasure hunt.Almost 85 percent of the land in Nevada is owned by the federal government. It wasn't easy to get a permit. For example, we weren't allowed to actually bury the chests. We had to hide them.

All of the work we put into the promotion was well worth it. We started planning about a year and a half ago. Now that it's over I feel like a proud papa! I just sat up on a hill and watched the hunt for over an hour. The location was so beautiful that I'm looking forward to returning some day just to be a tourist."

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp